Tuesday, May 21, 2024
 
 

Reimagining policy on the future of work

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In 1986, the American pop group The Bangles had a hit with “Manic Monday”, where singer Susanna Hoffs laments the start of another working week. Similarly Dolly Parton and The Boomtown Rats enjoyed success with “9 to 5” and “I Don’t Like Mondays” respectively, songs which express a similar negative sentiment. For decades the working week has received a bad rap.

The world of work is changing, however. Thanks to technology and new forms of remote work ushered in by the global Covid-19 pandemic there is a growing acceptance of new products and services. In parallel, the eight hour work day – a construct with its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain – as well as the dictates on where, when and how people can work are starting to crumble.

The policy and regulatory environment in Europe, and globally, needs to catch up with this new reality while policy-makers and opinion-formers need to facilitate the future of work, and harness it, rather than hinder it by trying to shoehorn it into an outdated framework which is no longer fit for purpose.

Protect and support while facilitating new products and services

At the heart of new policy is the need – as it has been in the traditional economy – to protect and support the low-skilled and those on low incomes. Politicians and the mainstream media focus on the ubiquitous image in cities across the world of men on scruffy mopeds and bikes delivering food for small amounts of money. While this type of activity represents a grain of sand on the ever-growing beach that is the future of work, it is very vivid and it is omnipresent. In his book “One of them”, author Qaisar Mahmood, who worked as a food delivery rider, describes how his parents would clean offices in the middle of the night. In the traditional economy these kind of jobs were therefore out of sight and out of mind. Today they are on every street in every major city, thus more difficult to ignore.

At the same time, it is essential that the growth in technology and digitalization is allowed to support entrepreneurship, open talent and new ways of working as well as the development of new products and services. Companies, society and the economy in general all benefit from this new wave while individuals have more choice, flexibility and opportunity than at any time in history. Companies like Velocity Global and Deel take care of payroll and compliance issues to allow companies to hire workers from anywhere, while new companies are coming up with solutions to financial services issues in the digital space. For example, Cappy allows individuals to access the money that they earn immediately and Cachet provides tailored insurance packages for gig workers. We are also witnessing the rise of platforms like Distributed, Nerdapp, Topcoder, Accace and Ework Group which match high-skilled workers to relevant opportunities in the knowledge and technology sectors. This provides benefits for companies and workers alike while addressing the skills shortage issues that affect many organizations globally.

Don’t be scared of AI

Similarly, much is written and said about the role of AI and machine learning in killing jobs and making whole sectors of society redundant. The truth is that humans need to utilize AI and educate themselves on the possibilities of this new technology, while focusing on the value and skills that they can add to an organization rather than the title they possess. In doing so, more jobs will be created. Companies and individuals alike need to adopt and harness AI to simplify and speed up activities while maintaining a competitive edge on the market.

Another important step in facilitating the future of work is allowing employers of record: namely a third-party who takes responsibility as the legal employer of workers. This allows the entity to handle a variety of compliance issues such as employment agreements, payroll and paying taxes while being responsible for health and safety issues. Such a set-up benefits workers and employers alike, ensuring that one entity takes responsibility, and thus removes the grey zone and uncertainty which exists today that is disliked by many politicians and public sector agencies.

In short, policy needs to protect the most vulnerable workers in society but not stymie the future of work and its associated benefits, opportunities and endless possibilities. Thanks to technology the future looks bright, and Mondays a lot less manic for workers everywhere.

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